Unemployment to blame for violence, siege mentality of boda boda operators - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 26 December 2020

Unemployment to blame for violence, siege mentality of boda boda operators


Last month, a viral video in which rogue boda boda riders are seen attacking a driver after he hit their colleague sparked public outrage over indiscipline among operators.

The incident which happened along Thika Road, involving a motor vehicle and a motorbike, saw GSU officers manning the nearby facility intervene to rescue the motorist.

Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai while condemning the act called on police to move swiftly and take action.

This is, however, one among many incidences that boda boda operators have wreaked havoc on Kenyan roads.

The motorcycle business known as “Boda-boda” has continued to play a critical role in easing the transportation problem of connecting urban and rural areas in Kenya.

Said to have originated in the early 1990s from Uganda through Busia town in western Kenya, the two-wheel motor vehicle spread to adjacent towns, subsequently, other towns and all towns currently are crowded with boda bodas.

Currently, the boda boda business in the country is booming, since it is readily available in urban and rural areas and people always transport goods to and fro and uses paths instead of roads given that feeder roads in Kenya are impassable during rainy seasons.

The industry has over the years grown to create employment for many young people in the country with the unemployment rate soaring in the country each day.

The industry has emerged as one of the biggest revenue-generating sectors in the economy and proved to be a key contributor to the economy by generating a whopping Sh357billion in revenue annually.

The National Crime Research Centre indicates that the explosion of boda boda in public transport in the country has taken a similar trajectory to the matatus industry - which operated illegally and thrived on lawlessness when they were first introduced in Kenya in the 1960 -70s.

The rise the centre says is attributable to among other factors the inability of the transport system to cater for transport needs of Kenyans, poor transport infrastructure, the 2008 government policy zero-rating motorcycles below 250cc leading to drop in motorcycle prices and widespread youth unemployment that pushed youths to embrace boda bodas as a source of employment.

According to the National Transport and Safety Authority, there are about 1.4 million registered motorcycles in the country although the exact number of boda-bodas operating in Kenya has not been well documented.

This is due to the fact that some of them are not registered as required by the law and further, the sector is not well regulated.

Over 65 per cent are not registered with one motorbike being operated by more than three people.

The registered commercial motorcycles on Kenyan roads each make Sh1,000 on average on daily basis.

This is through moving people and goods over short distances charging as low as Sh50. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta earlier on said about 5.2 million people in the country depend on each motorcycle operator for their daily livelihood translating to 10 per cent of the population.

“I have been in this business for the last five years since I lost my job. Though life has never been the same, I manage to pay rent and put a meal on the table,” David Owino who operates in Umoja said.

The father of three said through the bodaboda business he is able to pay school fees for his daughter who is now a candidate and the other two boys who are upper primary and lower primary respectively.

“The highest you can charge for a distance is Sh100. Majority of passengers here travel for short distances and we charge between Sh50 and Sh100. On a good day, I would make at least Sh1000,” he said.

Owino said when he lost his job, he spent so much time looking for an alternative until he took a loan to buy a motorcycle.

Since then he has repaid the loan and he is happy.

Rashid Odanga who operates within the CBD says he lives each day as it comes.

For him, venturing in the boda boda industry needs a thick heart especially when the area of operation in town.

“Here competition is high. We don’t have any specific rates, it depends on how the customer negotiates with you,” he said.

Odanga, a school dropout said the chamas they have formed as operators is what makes them proud of what they are.

“Through this chama I have managed to build myself a three-bedroomed home back at upcountry, I have a wife and two kids whom I strive to see live a better life,” he said.

Odanga said the only challenge they have is being victimised by authorities as gangsters.

Every day they are on high alert because if it is not police hunting them, the county askari’s will be on their case.

If only the government can help us be recognised in the transport sector as the Tuktuks, we shall have won big. For now, we survive each day as it comes,” he said.

In areas with poor road networks, boda bodas are considered the most viable option while in Nairobi’s highways, they are used by those seeking to skip traffic snarl-ups.

Though hyped as a viable income-generating activity for the youth, the sector has turned into a source of misery, economic burdens, physical and psychological pain.

The underlying factor has however been the number of accidents involving these boda boda operators.

As the country moves towards realisation of modern infrastructure in terms of roads, the situation could get worse according to the completion of high-speed and high-impact roads with the risk of increased serious and fatal injuries.

According to NTSA, by the end of October 2020 about 884 motorcyclists lost their lives compared to the same period in 2019 where 597 lost their lives.

This according to the safety authority was a variance of 48 per cent.

In the same period, 350 pillion Passengers lost their lives compared to 277 in 2019. This was a variance of 26 per cent.

NTSA indicates that these motorcyclists are often involved in accidents due to lack of training on road safety, negative attitude, impunity, disregard of the law, decentralisation of traffic police functions, unregulated sector, abuse of drugs and alcohol.

As a result, traffic police officers find it hard to deal with these operators because they flout traffic rules with impunity, leading to unnecessary but fatal accidents.

NTSA recommends that enforcement must concentrate on this sector to end the kind of gangsterism associated with the sector.

“The operators notoriously use wrong lanes, make U-turns in undesignated areas, do not obey traffic lights and pedestrian crossing signs, ride along pavements and rarely use safety gear,” Nairobi traffic police Joshua Omukata said.

“Move to any police station within the City, you are welcome by piles of written off motorcycles detained characterised by this impunity,” he added.

The police boss said the problem is that anyone thinking of making money simply purchases or acquires a motorbike and hits the road without being subjected to any scrutiny by relevant authorities.

“We cannot blame NTSA for this mess, the problems we are facing are largely attributed to people who enter this business with bad intentions,” he said.

He said as much as everyone would want police to take stern action against offending riders, it is hard to crack down on them as they easily manoeuvre and escape police traps.

A report dubbed, ‘Motorcycle injuries at a tertiary referral hospital in Kenya’ indicates that the rise in the use of motorcycles in Kenya in the last 10 years has been associated with increased injury rates.

In a hospital like Kenyatta National Hospital, motorcycle users have become the predominant road user category injured.

Motorcycle trauma admissions comprise the largest percentage of all road traffic injury admissions with male riders dominating the category.

According to police, half of the riders and 20 per cent of passengers use protective helmets with head and neck injuries being the most reported.

Those admitted to hospitals may stay up to one month with the cost of treatment going beyond Sh100,000.

While some may need surgical interventions, others end up dying depending on the severity of the injuries they encountered.

The report indicates the high mortality rate, need for surgery in the majority of patients, and prolonged admission days call for motorcycle control and expedited care.

Significant head injury mortality calls for efforts to embrace helmet laws for riders and passengers.

The report by the National Crime Research Centre indicates Kenya does not have a database of all motorcycles that operate as boda bodas and the subsector is therefore not effectively policed, regulated and monitored.

This is partly the reason for the wanton recklessness, impunity, violence and siege mentality of boda boda operators.

“When the boda boda industry is dominated by a fairly youthful population of men who are not professionally trained, less educated and of lower socio-economic standing - operating in a context of weak registration, policing, regulation and oversight, the end result is crime, impunity, deaths and injuries with grave implications for public safety,” the report reads.

The report further reveals that there is a lacuna in the legal framework under which boda bodas operate in public transport as public service vehicles.

“Kenya does not have a policy framework in place to register boda bodas as PSV equivalent to what the Transport Licensing Board (TLB) does with the registration and designation of private vehicles or matatus into PSV’s and their specific routes of operation,” it said.

Moreover, TLB has a mandatory provision that matatus have to be registered with a company or Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO) to operate in Kenya.

According to the report, for boda bodas, it is on the acquisition of a PSV motorcycle insurance cover (that many don’t have) they undertake commercial public transport services.

Two years ago, NTSA introduced a raft of measures to curtail the boda boda operations.

The envisaged regulations have had little impact as people continue to suffer.

These included compelling suppliers and dealers of two- and three-wheeled motorcycles to ensure they only sell vehicles complete with two helmets and two reflective jackets.

Helmets and jackets should bear the registration number of the motorcycle.

“No supplier, distributor or person involved in the business of selling motorcycles in Kenya shall sell, distribute or otherwise convey a motorcycle without the protective gear,” NTSA said.

In addition, owners of motorcycles were to ensure only riders who hold a valid driving licence or a valid provisional licence endorsed in respect of that class of motorcycle is permitted to ride the motorcycle. Under the new regulations, all riders were to have a public service vehicle (PSV) insurance, a valid license and minimum third party insurance and be registered by the authority.

The regulations also restricted the carriage of loads to 15cm width beyond the handlebars, to a height of 2m from the ground, and with no rear projection extending more than 60cm beyond the end of the motorcycle.

The regulations also forbid loads dragging on the road with the number of passengers being limited to one who, with the exception of someone with a disability.

“Boda bodas are increasingly becoming entrenched in Kenya along the matatu industry trajectory - that operated illegally and thrived on lawlessness. Therefore, the informal, unregulated nature and the weak governance framework for the boda boda sub-sector provides powerful incentives for risk-taking behaviours, recklessness and impunity among operators, with greater risks to the public,” the Crime Research Centre noted.

The centre says addressing major challenges in the boda boda motorcycle transport is essential in ensuring a secure, orderly and reliable part of public transport in Kenya.

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